Amble and District
     Local History


Duke of Northumberland's MSS.
1537, July. `A remembrance of the decrease of the late earl of Northumberland's lands, etc., and also of increase that may be made of the same lands. . . . Sir George Lancaster has a fee of 20 marks, etc., out of Warkworth which the king might redeem for a benefice worth £20 a year.' Cal. of State Papers (Dom.), 29 Hen. VIII.
`xiijli. vjs. viijd. solutis Georgio Lancastre capellano heremite in plena solucione feodi pro hoc anno.' Compotus Georgii Lancastre prepositi castre de Warkworth. Bishop Percy's MSS.; Border Holds, i. pp. 423, 424.
Proc. of Arch. Inst. 1852, ii. p. 227 n.
Orchard, A.S. orceard, older forms ortgeard, wyrtgeard, i.e., wort-yard ; compounded of wort and yard, i.e., a herb-garden, which is the old sense. W. W. Skeat, Concise Etym. Eng. Dict. s.v. Wort.
`Et in denariis per ipsum solutis Edwardo Slegge capellano heremite infra capellam Sancte Trinitatis infra parcum de Warkworth in plena solucione eiusdam annuitatis sue ad v marcas per annum per Dominum nunc comitem sibi concesse durante beneplacito sicut paret per literas patentes datas apud Topclyf xxvj die Julij anno Regis Henrici viij, etc., lxvjs. viijd.' Compotus of George Swinburne, receiver. Ibid.
Bishop Percy's MSS.; ibid.
`Et in solucione facta Thome Barker capellano divina celebranti infra capellam infra parcum de Sundreland eidem per dominum nuper comitem ultimum defunctum concessa ad terminum vite per literas ipsius Dni patentes pro hoc anno, lxvjs. viijd.' Compotus of John Harbotell, receiver. Ibid.
`Item, vs. rec. de agistamento hyemali et estivali catalli infra parcum de Sundreland hoc anno ut paret per unam billam inde per Ricardum Makson ac. acquit. viz. pro agistamento unius equi magistri Radulfi Percy et j vacce cum vitulo et j eque cum pullo Thome Barker capellani cantarie infra dictum parcum.' Compotus of Thomas Sharpe, bailiff of Warkworth, Michaelmas, 1486, to Michaelmas, 1487. Bishop Percy's MSS.; Border Holds, i. p. 423.
Mr. Longstaffe (Arch. Ael. new series, iv. p. 182) was of the opinion that the hermitage was founded as a chantry for the soul of this Margaret Nevill, the mother of Hotspur. The bull's head was the well-known badge of the Nevill family ; but although it is very possible that the hermitage may have been founded (or refounded) to this intent, it would be very singular if this lady were to be venerated as a saint, or if the badge of a wife's family were to be prominently carved without any corresponding badge of her husband. Percy arms and badges may have been intended to be carved on the unfinished bosses of the vaulting, but that does not dispose of the difficulty. Mr. Hartshorne's identification of the sculptured lady with Margaret of Lancaster and the figure in the niche with her husband the third Percy, lord of Alnwick, in a hauberk and jupon, with a bacinet on his head, and an orle around it' has nothing to recommend it. Proc. Arch. Inst. 1852, ii. p. 222.
Among the witnesses, all taken apparently from his own household and retinue, there were, in addition to the two chaplains, Thomas de Burton and Thomas de Walton, clerks. The name Burton sufficiently resembles that of Bertram for the two to be confounded in Northumberland, where the latter was best known. If Thomas de Burton became the first hermit of the newer chapel, the gauntlet that was painted on a shield over the inner door may be explained by the Burton crest, `a dexter gauntlet proper, showing the inside of the hand.' The only Bertram known to have been connected with the earls of Northumberland was William Bartreham, esq., retained for the term of his life to serve in peace or war at 20 marks per annum, by letters of warrant dated 6th December, 1440; he was also appointed master-forester of Rothbury at 2d. a day for life. Bishop Percy's MSS.; Border Holds, i. p. 418 n.
It has again been suggested that the figure in the niche is St. Luke, whose emblem was an ox, and that he is contemplating the entombed Virgin with a view to her portraiture.
'In the sole of a window at the south end of the altar is the effigies of the Blessed Virgin, sculptured in stone, recumbent ; another of the Child Jesus on her right hand, standing, his left hand resting upon her shoulder ; at her feet, in a niche in the wall, is the effigies of an hermit, in the attitude of prayer ; by him a bull's head, all in high relief. Wallis, Northumberland, ii. p. 355.
Ibid. p. 417.
`But,' Bishop Percy adds, ` William of Bertram founded Brinkburn temp. Hen. 1st. He, therefore, lived too early for the date of the hermitage.' Border Holds, i. p. 418,
Mr. Thomas Butler, the duke's commissioner, told Bishop Percy in a letter dated Northumberland house, 25th August, 1787, that if he remembered right he met with an account of the foundation of the hermitage either in Dugdale's Monasticon, `or in some MSS. of the late Mr. Wharburton, which are now in the hands of Mr. Wallis of Simonburn, who is writing the History of Northunmberland, and which, by the by, I wish you would get from him, whilst you are in the country, and they are pretty voluminous and some of them valuable.' Butler thought that the first hermit was `a knight of the name of Shebburne or Seaburne, or some such name,' Border Holds, i. pp. 420, 421; but possibly this was a confusion with Freburn, the founder of Hulne priory.
Wallis, Northumberland, ii. p. 355.
It seems incredible that the hermit's cowhouse and stable can have been placed so near the chapel, but it is not easy now to determine where the considerable farm buildings required for his bull and twelve cows with their calves and two horses were situated. Border experience would necessitate their being housed every night somewhere near the hermitage. Unfortunately we do not know in which direction their pasture `called cony garth' lay.
Ibid. The grant of the hermitage to George Lancastre in 1531 carefully distinguishes `the garden and the orteyarde.'
`At the bottom of the hill (was his garden. where a gooseberry bush is still extant. Mr. Lawson remembers cherry trees at the top of the cliff) are still scattered flowers and shrubs that have sown themselves ever since the original plantation.' Bishop Percy's MSS.; Border Holds, i. p. 417.
The Rev. Wilfrid Lawson told Bishop Percy that he remembered `a pillar standing in the hermitage between the antechapel and vestry, that had a very picturesque appearance.' Border Holds, i. p. 439. By `the antechapel' he meant the inner chapel, and by the 'vestry' probably what it seems reasonable to call the dormitory.
Two marks on the floor of the inner chapel, at the spot where a person kneeling could behold the pyx above the altar, are traditionally said to have been worn by the hermit's knees.
There appears to be a small altar slab in the chapel of Chipchase tower.
The full blazon would be : In saltire a hammer and a spear, over all, on a mount, a cross raguly, in the dexter chief the crown of thorns, in the sinister three nails, and in base four hyssop flowers.'
` They gave me gall for my meat and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.' Ps. lxix. 21. The Rev. Wilfrid Lawson told Bishop Percy that he remembered `part of a Latin sentence near the scutcheon over the door on the north side, viz., Esca mca,' etc. Border Holds, i. pp. 419, 420
`Above the inner door of the vestibule is a shield bearing the remains of some arms, by some taken to be the figure of a gauntlet : but as it is generally believed one of the Bertrams formed this hermitage, so it is probable that this shield (the remains of which seem to correspond therewith) bore the Bertram's arms, or, an orl, azure.' Mackenzie, View of Northumberland, 1825, ii. p. 118. All antiquaries know how easy it is to see the mitre of the abbot of Trotcosey when their brains are working in that direction. Wallis, too, ii. p. 355, mentions a scutcheon of arms now effaced,' but places it `over the entrance into the chamber' (i.e., the inner chapel) ; this cannot be the shield still there as in Bishop Percy's time: ` And in a little scutcheon hung the cross and crown and spear.' The other shield was disregarded, it did not fit in with the Bertram hypothesis.
`My tears have been my meat day and night.' Ps. xlii. 3. Hartshorne, Proc. of Arch. Inst. 1852, ii. p. 216.
Many of the trees seem to have been planted since 1767, when the Rev. Wilfrid Lawson told Bishop Percy that `the wood reached down to the water edge, but part of it was cut up a few years agoe to repair the mill-dam above.' Border Holds, i. p. 420. Wallis speaks only of the `spreading oaks and brushwood' above the rocks.
This is a shallow ` drip-well' supplied by a conduit that is easily obstructed.
Liber Vite, p. 6, Surtees Soc. No. 13.


    Northumberland possesses a long roll of hermits. In the Book of Life, once placed on the high altar of Lindisfarne, their names follow immediately after those of the queens and abbesses, before those of the abbots. N But in the land of St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert, St. Bartholomew and St. Henry, the hermitage `bilded in a rocke of stone within the parke of Warkworth in honour of the blessed Trynete' is now unique ; in all England its one rival in interest is Guy's Cliff, near Warwick, a possession likewise of the Percy family. Although so near the cell of Coquet Island the contrast is as great as that between St. Herbert's anchorage embowered on Derwentwater and the wild retreat of his great companion in death among the breakers and sea-fowl of Farne. The row up the river with the receding and reflected castle and the darting silvery fish forms an admirable prelude : we seem to have left the cold nineteenth century on the right bank of the Coquet and to be landed in a world of medieval glamour.

Exterior of Warkworth Hermitage



  We pass the hermit's well N and wind our way under the great beeches N between the cliffs and the river till we see the rough steps on the right ascending to the door of the rock-hewn sanctuary. A small seat has been cut out on either side of the little porch formed in the thickness of the rock : over the inner door is a rood, the Saviour stretched on the transverse limbs of the cross between vague outlines of the Virgin and St. John. We enter the chapel : over the inner door-head are still one or two letters of the inscription:

Fuerunt mibi lacrymæ meæ panes die ac nocte  N

the shield with the figure of a  gauntlet has disappeared. N Over the doorway immediately opposite, which leads into another chapel, the shield carved with the emblems of the Passion N remains, but the verse:

 Dederunt in escam meam fel: et in siti mea potaverunt  N  is entirely gone.




    The chapel is about 18 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high to the central bosses of the three bays into which it is divided. Of these the western and the central are regularly groined, the eastern with diagonal ribs only.
Pillars, ribs, tracery, mouldings, everything in the chapel is hewn out of the solid white free stone. At the east end is the one altar in Northumberland that was not overthrown or defaced during the great religious upheaval of the sixteenth century. N The front is a plain sunk moulded panel : no dedication crosses are now visible. In the rock immediately behind is a small niche in which a crucifix was probably placed : just under the vaulting above are faint traces in fresco of a head with a cruciferous aureole.
    To the south of the altar, an arched recess, lit by two rough lancets, contains a columnar piscina
and a mysterious group of figures. Kneeling in a niche of the west wall, a man, clad apparently in skins, the right hand held up against the face, the elbow resting in the left, is wrapt in contemplation of a nimbed lady, reclining
rather than recumbent. Between them, close to the piscina, is the head of an ox, bull, or cow ; near the lady's left shoulder, the figure of an angel or child.



    The chapel seems to have been roughly blocked out in the first instance, and the carving to have been executed by a more skilled hand. The pillar caps in the eastern corners rest on the altar ; of the four semi-octagon pillars of the central bay the south-east is more ornate than the north- east, the south - west than the south-east, and the north-east the most elaborate of all both in cap and base. This increased ornamentation probably indicates the order in which they the were finished. The quarter-pillars in the western corners of the chapel are still left in the rough, as also are the round bosses of the vaulting, showing that something occurred to interfere with the completion of the original design. The pillars may be of almost any date in the fourteenth century. Both pillars and vaulting are probably subsequent to the original excavation of the chapel, or the doors would have been placed in the exact centre of the sides of the western bay.
    On the north side of the altar step a window with four low lights and an elaborate head of trefoil and quatrefoil tracery, apparently of the latter part of the fourteenth century, has been pierced through the rock to the inner
chapel for the purpose of light, air, and sound ; Bishop Percy most improperly called it 'The lattice for confession framed.'
   A hagioscope of three plainer lights (the mullions all broken away) is placed in the same partition in the eastern half of the central bay : opposite, not quite in the middle of the bay, is a flat arched opening with a basin—the ` holy water vase ' of the ballad—and a plain quatrefoil window. In the west wall of this outer chapel are four irregular slits opening from what was possibly a dormitory.
    The inner chapel is in all probability more ancient than is the outer one in its present form ; it is nothing more than a long, narrow cave, with the hagioscope N and traceried window in the south wall and a small niche as a piscina between them. The altar, approached by two steps, has been barbarously hacked away, probably by treasure-seekers, who found the rock behind it had a hollow sound owing to a natural cleft. North of the altar steps is an aumbry, possibly for the reservation of the sacrament.


        Near the mouth of the cave, beyond the door of communication between the two chapels, a seat has been cut out in the north wall. A doorway, of which only the eastern jamb with the bolt-hole is left, leads to the rock-roofed eastern end of what seems to have been the dormitory : N the level is higher than that of the larger chapel, and it is necessary to kneel down to look into it through the four slits. A slit higher up in the south wall opens into a recess provided with a seat originally approached, perhaps, along a shelf of rock from the chapel porch. The mouth of the chapel-cave, during the latter portion of its use, was closed by a circular-headed window with indications of iron bars having been fixed both in the head and the jambs. The fact of there being a step down to it suggests that it was originally a door. A fall of rock may very possibly have destroyed the remains of an earlier cell to the west of the present one.
    On the right of the stairs leading up to the chapel-porch is the hermit's oven with the hearthstone nearly perfect : near it a gooseberry bush still marked the site of his garden in 1767. N Above is a rough door-case in the rock with a break-neck stair ascending to his orchard at the top of the cliff : old cherry-trees still stood here in the beginning of the eighteenth century. N It is a question whether the small yard at the base of the chapel-rock containing the oven and a small drip-well was not either enclosed or intended to be enclosed in a long lean-to. There are signs of a rough outer wall and of rafter-holes in the rock above. N A door, now built up, seems designed to have led into this yard from the entrance passage of the large kitchen, which formed the basement of the living house. The orchard stair probably came down close to the face of the rock into a passage just inside the yard door, and the chapel stairs may have branched off from it, making the whole hermitage self-contained, with a lower door towards the river and an upper door towards the orchard. Judging from the masonry, the kitchen appears to have been built up against the south-west corner of the chapel-rock at the end of the fifteenth century ; the great fire-place in the south wall looks of even later date. A door in the north corner opened from a small closet about 8 feet long by 7 feet wide, with no external opening apparent in its foundations. The portion of the dormitory over the kitchen had also a fire-place in the south wall, a large window looking out over the Coquet, and a smaller one in the east wall ; in the south-west corner was a latrine. It is difficult to determine with any certainty how access was obtained from the kitchen below or if there was any separation between this portion of the dormitory and that placed obliquely under the rock. It may have been entered by a door at the stair-head near the chapel-porch.


    The mystery that veils the origin of the hermitage invests it with a charm that might perhaps be dissipated if its real history were known. Wallis, N who was supposed to have had exceptional opportunities, N identified it with the cell for two monks from Durham for whose maintenance the bishop, Nicholas de Farnham (1241-1248), appropriated the church of Branxton, a grant confirmed by his successor, Walter de Kirkham (1249-1260), but this is now generally referred to the chapel of which the foundations remain to the east of the parish church, and may even relate to the Maudlins.
    The popular tradition in the eighteenth century was that the hermitage was founded by `the same Bertram as Brinkburn and Brainshaugh' to expiate the murder of his brother. N By the end of the century this was changed into its having been `the retreat of a Northumberland warrior who having lost the mistress of his heart by some unexpected stroke, with her lost all relish for the world, and retired to this solitude to spend the remainder of his days in devotion for her soul and in erecting this little mausoleum to her memory.' N Bishop Percy amalgamated the two traditions in the celebrated ballad which he published in 1770. He supposed the ox's or bull's head in the chapel was an important clue, and apparently unaware that the Bertrams of Bothal as well as the Widdringtons bore a bull's head as their crest he evolved a Bertram Widdrington. On general grounds we may join with Aytoun in exclaiming, ` All laud and praise to the memory of good Bishop Percy !' but it is difficult to avoid admitting the justice of Dr. Johnson's severe condemnation of the Hermit of Warkworth. The dedication to the duchess of Northumberland possesses a certain quaint eighteenth-century charm :

Down in a northern vale wild flowerets grew,
And lent new sweetness to the summer gale ;
The Muse there found them all remote from view,
Obscured with weeds, and scattered o'er the dale.

O Lady, may so slight a gift prevail,
And at your gracious hand acceptance find ?
Say may an ancient legendary tale
Amuse, delight, or move the polish'd mind.

    But the opening of the hermit's tale is taken, without acknowledgment, from the exploit of Sir William Marmion at Norham, as related in the Scalacronica, and Leland's rough translation of Sir Thomas Gray's nobly-worded promise to Marmion, ` Sir knight, ye be cum hither to fame your helmet : mount on your horse, and ryde lyke a valiant man to your foes even here at hand, and I forsake God if I rescue not thy body dead or alyve, or I myself wyl dye for it,' quivers with a verve wholly absent in the rhymes :

Now, Bertram, prove thy lady's helme ;
Attack yon forward band :
Dead or alive I'll rescue thee,
Or perish by their hand.

    All the same, we must not forget that the Hermit of Warkworth acted on the popular mind in re-awakening an interest in medieval literature much as the Gothic of Strawberry Hill did in regard to medieval architecture.
    It is extremely improbable that the bull's head, if a bull's head it be, is a crest in the position it occupies. The effigy of the lady cannot even be a cenotaph, or it would have been necessarily turned towards the east. Besides this the lady is generally admitted to have an aureole. Wallis, who wrote in 1767, before the destruction of all genuine traditions by the ballad, had no hesitation in pronouncing the figure to be that of the Blessed Virgin ; the small figure at her shoulder seemed to him the Holy Child standing. N The shepherd in the niche and the ox would thus naturally complete a group emblematic of the Nativity, a subject peculiarly suitable on account of its being believed to have taken place in the cave of Bethlehem. From the cross, too, on the aureole of the head painted above the altar we may be certain that this outer chapel of the hermitage of the Trinity was dedicated in an especial manner to the Second Person. The objections are that the Virgin is usually only represented as reclining in the scene of the Assumption, N while the small figure looks more like an angel and does not seem to have had an aureole. The whole group has suffered more from the pawing of visitors than from time or weather.
   The period of the probable completion of the larger chapel indicated by architectural evidence, coincides very closely with that of the solemn invocation of the Persons of the Trinity and of the Blessed Virgin, in the ratification of the charter of Alnwick abbey for the good of the souls of his ancestors and of his late dear consort, Margaret Nevill, N by the future first earl of Northumberland as he was leaving Warkworth for the French wars in 1373. N


     The first actual mention of Warkworth hermitage occurs in 1487, when Thomas Barker, chaplain of the chantry in Sunderland park, as it was then called, made a payment to Thomas Sharpe, bailiff of Warkworth, for the privilege of grazing a cow and calf and a mare and foal in the park both winter and summer. L Barker had been appointed for life to celebrate mass in the chapel there by the fourth earl of Northumberland, who had been restored in 1471, at a yearly stipend of 66s. 8d. L He was probably succeeded at the hermitage by John Greene, who was chaplain of the chapel of the Trinity in Sunderland park in 1506, when he received 10s. N On the 26th of July, 1515, the fifth earl of Northumberland, then at Topcliff, conferred an annuity of 5 marks, the same sum as Barker had received, but during pleasure, on Edward Slegg, chaplain, the hermit in the chapel of the Holy Trinity in Warkworth park. L On the 3rd of December, 1531, the sixth earl granted the hermitage with various privileges to his chaplain, George Lancastre :

Henry, erle of Northumberland, etc. Knowe you that I the saide erle, in consideration of the diligent and thankfull service that my well-beloved chaplen, Sir George Lancastre hath don unto me the said erle, and also for the goode and virtus disposition that I do perceive in him; and for that he shall have in his daily recommendation and praiers the good estate of all such noble blode and other personages as be now levynge, and the soules of such noble blode as be departed to the mercy of God oute of this present lyve, whos names are conteyned and wrettyn in a table upon parchment signed with thande of me the said erle, and delivered to the custodie and keepynge of the said Sir George Lancastre ; and further that he shall kepe and saye his devyn service in celebratyng and doing masse of requiem every weke as it is written and set forth in the saide table : have geven and graunted, and by these presents do gyve and graunte unto the said Sir George myn armytage bilded in a rock of stone within my parke of Warkworth, in the county of Northumberland, in the honour of the blessed Trynete, with a yerly stipende of twenty merks by yer, from the feest of Seint Michell th'archaungell last past afore the date herof yerly duryng the naturall lyve of the said Sir George ; and also I the said erle have geven and graunted, and by these presents do gyve and graunte unto the said Sir George Lancastre the occupation of one little grasground of myn called Conygarth, nygh adjoynynge the said hermytage, only to his only use and profit wynter and somer durynge the said terme ; the garden and orteyarde N belongyng to the said armytage; the gate and pasture of twelf kye and a bull, with their calves suking ; and two horses goyng and beyng within my said parke of Warkworth wynter and somer ; one draught of fisshe every soundaie in the yer to be drawen fornenst the said armytage called the Trynete draught ; and twenty lods of fyrewode to be taken of my wodds called Shilbotell wood during the said term. The said stipend of xx merks by yer to be taken and received yerly of the rent and ferme of my fisshyng of Warkworth by thands of the fermour and fermours of the same for the tyme heynge yerly at the times ther used and accustomed to, evyn portions. In wytness whereof to these my letters patentes, I the said erle have set the seale of myn armes. Geven under my signet at my castell of Warkworth, the third daye of December, in the xxiii yer of the reigne of our soveryn lord Kyng Henry the Eight. N

    It seems doubtful whether George Lancastre was actually to live at the hermitage, since his duties were restricted to `celebrayting and doing masse of requiem every weke.' Two years later a person of the same name was bailiff of Warkworth, but the payment of the annuity of George Lancastre, chaplain and hermit, is duly entered in his accounts. L It seems hardly credible that the last hermit of Warkworth took advantage of the ecclesiastical laxity of the period to follow a secular vocation while still enjoying the revenues of what was rapidly becoming a sinecure. N
    In `a view of the castles, lordship's lands and tenements of the earl of Northumberland conveyed to King Henry VIII.' (1537) there occurs the following passage :

HERMYTAGES. One at Warkeworth, being a verey propre howse buylded oute of a rocke of stone with many comodyties thereto belongynge, wherof Sr George Lancastre preste, being a well benyfyced man, ys now incumbent and hath by letters patentes of the forsaid late erle for terme of his lyff a yearly salarye oute of the lordeshippe of Warkeworth of xx marcs and pasture for xij kyne and a bull and their folowers and ij horses and xx lodes of wood, and every Sondaye a draught of fysshe. N



First floor plan of Warkworth Hermitage



Ground plan of Warkworth Hermitage